Story four – 

Art has always had an access problem, its hallowed institutions – physical or otherwise – protected by gates to which the privileged few possess the keys. However, deny the gatekeepers (as the COVID-19 lockdown does) their keys, and something quite extraordinary happens: the gates fly open, the world rushes in, and the art gets better.

It’s a phenomena I first witnessed when the University of Glasgow lost its School of Art to a fire. Forced to commandeer empty and apparently uninspiring 1960s office blocks as temporary studios, tutors noted the effect of the move on their students’ art: it was much improved. Somehow the world-out-there had released them. Similarly, our own metaphorical and planet-sized fire has – as exemplified by Dorset-based artist Stuart Semple’s livestreamed life drawing classes – forced the artist community to rethink what it means to connect with and involve audiences of all kinds. Attended by people who have never done a life drawing, by art students denied their colleges, and by professional artists, Semple’s 3,500-strong classes open their virtual doors to all, positively encourage the cross-fertilisation of ideas and skills, and are producing fantastic art. Like Glasgow’s students, given the right conditions, the Semple’s charges are released.

I can’t tell you how wonderful this is. Denied by COVID-19 the safety of the ivory tower, its cathedrals to schools and styles and codes, art must risk stepping forward, out and into the world. It’s rising to the challenge, as Semple’s life drawing classes more than demonstrate. And we are all – its institutions included – much better off for it having done so.


Words by Adam Scott and Dave Waddell
Illustration Jessica Watson

Stuart Semple, ‘#semplelifeclasslive’, 2020.
Sydney Opera House, ‘Digital Season’, 2020.
‘Small places for contemplating art/time/memory’, 2020.



About AfterCOVID

The historian Peter Hennessy recently observed that future historians will divide post-divide society into BC and AC – Before COVID and After COVID. It is in exactly this spirit that AfterCOVID seeks to celebrate how the world’s largest shared experience has given us the most extraordinary stories of what it means to live beautifully. Together, they are the clues to creating the future we all hope for.

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